Washington Watch for Nov. 4, 2012

Gulf Coast understands Sandy

An Ocean Springs, Miss., native, Parker Wishik graduated from LSU in 2009 and made his way up to Washington, D.C., last year for graduate school and work.

Little did Wishik know, that as a Gulf Coast veteran of hurricanes, he’d move farther north just in time for Hurricane Irene to strike the Atlantic coast.

Then, this past week, the more-powerful Hurricane-Nor’easter-Frankenstorm-Superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc.

Wishik said transplants from Louisiana and the Gulf Coast had helped reassure northerners and aid them in their preparations.

“I’ve been in hurricane alley my whole life,” he said. “It’s nothing new to me.

“It’s just kind of the shock value that there’s a hurricane in late October in Washington, New Jersey and New York. It’s something they’ve seen on TV and didn’t know how to react.”

Other than an electrical pole being downed and losing power temporarily, Wishik and most of the nation’s capital escaped relatively unscathed, at least compared to the storm surge flooding and outages that pummeled New Jersey, New York and other areas.

Sandy claimed more than 150 lives, including more than 80 in the United States.

Gonzales native Keith Goudeau, who lives near New York’s Gramercy Park, has seen the have and have-not situations created in New York by flooding and power outages. Most of upper Manhattan never lost power, or only did so briefly, while the rest of the region remained in the dark. Public transportation shut down for awhile. Subway stations flooded.

Goudeau said he has been spending the week relying on candles, a lot of walking and the kindness of friends to find a warm shower. It could have been much worse, he said.

“From a New York standpoint, a lot of people were freaked out. Everyone underestimated the storm surge,” he said. “But, as far as my experience, the hurricane wasn’t bad at all. I’m used to these kinds of things.”

For instance, Goudeau said he is concerned about those who did have it worse, such as friends in the Broad Channel neighborhood of Queens where most of the homes were under water.

One of the “lucky” ones, New Orleans native Mark Bonner ­­— a former writer for The Advocate — never lost power in the Upper East Side and ended up hosting a lot of family and friends all week. He described hordes of people walking into uptown portions of Manhattan for refuge.

“It’s a pretty wild scene up here,” Bonner said. “This city wasn’t designed for storm surge like this … These people literally have no experience with this.”

Politically, Baton Rouge native Bradley Beychok, who is the campaign director for the Democratic Party-aligned American Bridge 21st Century Super PAC in Washington, said he does not expect Sandy to have a major impact on the Nov. 6 elections.

In the affected states, Beychok said Sandy could suppress voter turnout and force campaigns into temporary “pauses.” The storm also could give a bit of a boost to President Barack Obama, he said.

“Apples to apples, the president kind of benefits because he’s commander-in-chief and he has another role to fill,” Beychok said of the disaster response.

When it comes to voter turnout, Beychok noted countless families are dealing with evacuations and major property damage or worse. “Your No. 1 priority won’t be going to the polls and nor should it be,” he said.

Charlie Cook, a Shreveport native and publisher of the Cook Political Report in Washington, said he does not expect Sandy to have any impact on the presidential race because of the Electoral College.

While swing states like Virginia, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania were somewhat hit by Sandy, Cook said, states like New Jersey and New York are not considered toss-ups.

“It’s an election in 11 states and none of them has been impacted enough by the hurricane,” Cook said.

But, as Wishik noted and Louisiana has learned in the past, hurricane devastation should not be a time for politics.

“We really just have our hearts and prayers go out to the people in places like New York and New Jersey,” he said.

Jordan Blum is chief of The Advocate Washington bureau. His email address is jblum@theadvocate.com.